Can we talk about fasting? When I was in college, two Bible professors at our school regularly told their students that they fasted one day per week. Another professor criticized them for this, saying that they were violating what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount:
But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:17-18)
I disagree. Jesus gave similar warnings about public prayer, yet no one complains when others pray in their presence. We were warned not to let others know when we give, yet we regularly have a public offering during our assemblies. Only fasting has been placed in the “don’t ask, don’t tell” category.
I think that our policy of silence on fasting has hurt the church. We rarely teach about fasting. If truth be told, we rarely fast. Is that what Jesus wanted?
Hardly. Note that his teaching above begins “But when you fast,” making it apparent that he expected believers to fast. In the same way, He said that when He was no longer present on earth, His followers would fast (Mark 2:20). And Jesus fasted while living here on earth (Luke 4:2).
The early church fasted as part of its worship (Acts 13:2-3) and as part of the process for appointing elders in the church (Acts 14:23). Some Christians avoid talking about when they fast, but these passages show that the early church was comfortable in sharing that information. If we never talk about fasting, we’ll never learn to practice it.
Here are some suggestions:
- We need times of corporate prayer and fasting, like we see in the book of Acts. There is power in practicing these spiritual disciplines.
- We need to talk about fasting and teach about fasting. In New Testament times, fasting was relatively common, so little practical instruction needed to be given. Today we need to talk about how to fast, when not to fast, how long to fast, etc.
- We need to remember that spiritual fasting isn’t about increased health nor weight loss. Nor is it just about abstaining from food. Fasting should be accompanied by prayer. Use the time you would spend eating to spend in time with God.
The early church was comfortable with fasting. They taught about it. They practiced it. They even dared to talk about it.
We should do the same.